Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan gave a talk at the Sembawang GRC Youth Executive Committee’s policy forum on 29 May 2011. http://www.facebook.com/notes/theonlinecitizen/slower-growth-means-fewer-job-opportunities/10150197185958964
At the event, he said, ‘But now we get the message that we don’t want so much growth, that we are prepared to accept slower growth,’ referring to criticism heard during the recent General Election. ‘It means starting pay also comes down.’
When asked how young Singaporeans could be equipped to compete locally and globally, he noted that all competition today is global, but that young people here have greater opportunities and resources in a broader range of fields than ever. He cited the famed Culinary Institute of America’s degree course tie-up with Temasek Polytechnic, and the growing crop of schools that offer computer graphics and game design.
The economy has been on steroids the last 2 years, with growth fuelled by the two integrated resorts and a huge influx of ‘foreign talents’ across all categories, from high end to low end salary range. I am not totally convinced starting salaries have gone up much, as I have hired many polytechnic graduates in my various businesses since 2000. The market is tighter but starting pay is not that much higher at the lower end of the job market. The foreign competition has pushed wages down. Median income has not gone up by much too. While there may have been some increase in income, cost of living has been pushed up too.
GDP is not a good measure of the situation as our economy is export oriented. A good portion of GDP goes out to foreign companies as profits. Another substantial chunk also goes out to foreign workers as our economy is very dependent on them. This is the nature of our economy. Measuring by GDP alone does not paint a good picture of how Singaporeans at the lower and median income levels have benefited. (See: http://www.transitioning.org/2010/10/11/singapore-%E2%80%98average-wealth-per-adult%E2%80%99-owned-by-less-than-20/)
So Minister Khaw’s statement that slower growth means fewer jobs and lower starting pay is simplistic. We cannot sustain our growth by inviting foreign talents without considering our capacity for growth and our capacity to accommodate the influx of people. Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, former Permanent Secretary in various ministries has also been critical of the government’s effort to grow through reliance on foreign companies and foreign talents alone. He laments the lack of attention to growing our own ‘timber’, i.e. local industry and local talents (http://kbkee.blogspot.com/2010/06/ngiam-tong-dow-foreign-talent-are-like.html).
Minister Khaw, we do want to grow. But please consider how we can grow with our own timber rather than rely on pumping the economy with steroids as we did in the past.
On his other statement about the growing crop of schools that offer computer graphics and game design, I do happen to be involved in the new media industry as I have been involved in technology businesses since 1996. As an Internet entrepreneur since 2000, I have hired mostly new media polytechnic graduates. There’s a lot of talk about training graduates for game design but the industry here cannot absorb them. The few top game development companies that we have managed to attract to Singapore do not hire our fresh graduates. The local industry is too small to hire enough of the graduates. As a result, most work outside of the game design field they were trained in.
The departure of top animation companies like Nickson Fong’s Egg Story (http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_615197.html) and Storm Lion (http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_615484.html) shows our animation industry is seriously in trouble. For those who remembered, Nickson Fong was cited by PM Lee Hsien Loong in his 2004 national day speech about how Singapore has attracted its top animation talent back home. Egg Story and Storm Lion made it into the news because they were high profile companies in their industry. Many are struggling in this industry, with many shutting down or laying off staff.
I wonder if Minister Khaw is aware of the state of the industry when he made his statement.